As the American workforce ages and stays employed longer, the workplace has become multi-generational. With this diversity comes a new set of management issues and workplace relationship challenges. Each generation is imbued with their own approach to the job and their own work ethic. It is helpful for managers and co-workers alike to be educated and aware of these dynamics, as they absolutely impact the interpersonal dynamics and morale in an office setting.
Currently, there are four generations in the workplace classified as: Traditionalists (1922-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X’ers (1965-1980), and Millennials, a.k.a. Generation Y (1980-1994). Here are some brief work-related traits of each generation (these are merely guidelines, not absolutes!):
Traditionalists: 1) Plan to stay with an organization over the long term, 2) are respectful of organizational hierarchy, 3) like structure and follow the rules, 4) are accepting of authority figures in the workplace, 5) give maximum effort.
Baby Boomers [currently make up over half of the work population]: 1) Give maximum effort, 2) are accepting of authority figures in the workplace, 3) are results driven, optimistic and ambitious, 4) plan to stay with an organization over the long term, 5) retain what they learn.
Generation X’ers [currently make up one-third of the US workforce]: 1) Learn quickly and value job autonomy and informality, 2) seek immediate gratification and pursue on-the-job learning and training opportunities, 3) are technologically savvy, 4) seek work/life balance, 5) embrace diversity.
Millennials: 1) Are technologically savvy, 2) like informality, 3) embrace diversity, 4) need supervision, 5) respond to humor/irony, 6) are realists, 7) are good multi-taskers, 8) are team-oriented and work well in groups.
Here are some suggestions to bridging the gap in the work environment:
Avoid age stereotypes – you never know a person’s capabilities, so it helps to know them as an individual and learn about their areas of expertise.
Make an effort to work inclusively and collaboratively – include people of all ages in group projects, take people’s personal schedules and needs into account when planning a meeting. Get to know people’s strengths across generations.
Be willing to give up control – being willing to ask for help, especially when feeling overloaded or stuck, can help bring new perspective to your project and simultaneously build rapport with co-workers.
Help each other out — especially during times of pressure and stress.
Show your appreciation – let your co-worker know you value their input and help.
See things with a new perspective – understanding what motivates and drives your co-workers can help increase compassion, tolerance, and civility in the workplace.
Taking time to get to know our colleagues’ professional strengths, as well as what personally inspires them, will help to bridge the generation gap and create more cohesive work teams. Ultimately, this can lead to a more satisfying work environment where there is more respect and compassion.